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An Aboriginal Actor Has Opened Up About The Horrific Racial Abuse She Endured At School

The Sapphires and Love Child actress Miranda Tapsell was called half-caste and viciously bullied as a teenager because of her heritage.

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Actress Miranda Tapsell has opened up to BuzzFeed News about the abuse she endured when she was 16-years-old, as a classmate called her half-caste, a highly offensive and derogatory word for an Aboriginal person of mixed race.

"He asked why I called myself Aboriginal because my dad wasn't Aboriginal and my mum was and asked me why I chose my Aboriginal side over my non-indigenous side," Tapsell says. "He naively thought that calling me half-caste was right when I grew up knowing that was a bad name for Aboriginal people."From the 1900s until the 1960s the term half-caste was used by the Australian government to describe children who had one Aboriginal parent and one white parent. Government policy allowed these children to be forcibly removed from their Aboriginal families, placed into children's homes and adopted out to white families, and denied their culture. The rationale behind the policy was that children with a white parent and lighter skin could assimilate into white culture, eventually breeding out any Indigenous heritage. Now called the Stolen Generations, thousands of these children were taken from their families. Tapsell said the insult upset her so much that she delivered a class speech about it. "I decided to speak up in front of my class about how I felt and I asked the whole class why I had to define who I was and they didn't." she says."When I spoke up about my feelings and because I did it in such a passionate manner a lot of those boys stood up and jeered. For weeks after that I was taunted and teased and called different names."
Brendon Thorne / Getty Images

"He asked why I called myself Aboriginal because my dad wasn't Aboriginal and my mum was and asked me why I chose my Aboriginal side over my non-indigenous side," Tapsell says. "He naively thought that calling me half-caste was right when I grew up knowing that was a bad name for Aboriginal people."

From the 1900s until the 1960s the term half-caste was used by the Australian government to describe children who had one Aboriginal parent and one white parent.

Government policy allowed these children to be forcibly removed from their Aboriginal families, placed into children's homes and adopted out to white families, and denied their culture. The rationale behind the policy was that children with a white parent and lighter skin could assimilate into white culture, eventually breeding out any Indigenous heritage.

Now called the Stolen Generations, thousands of these children were taken from their families.

Tapsell said the insult upset her so much that she delivered a class speech about it.

"I decided to speak up in front of my class about how I felt and I asked the whole class why I had to define who I was and they didn't." she says.

"When I spoke up about my feelings and because I did it in such a passionate manner a lot of those boys stood up and jeered. For weeks after that I was taunted and teased and called different names."

The bullying got so bad that a teacher had to mediate the dispute between Tapsell and the group of boys.

"It got to the point where a teacher said this is getting out of hand and we need to settle this, and I thought why do I need to justify what I said? I thought to myself why am I made to feel bad about standing up for myself you?", Tapsell says.Tapsell became withdrawn and depressed and it wasn't until she moved to Sydney after high school and started acting that she was able to deal with the abuse. "You can’t control what people think of you and I found that really hard to come to terms with and maybe that's my personality.""I always want people to like me and when they don’t like me I think, why don’t they? And that was a really hard thing to brush off, and even now that can be a part of me," said Tapsell.
A still from the "I am fearless" campaign. (Libra)

"It got to the point where a teacher said this is getting out of hand and we need to settle this, and I thought why do I need to justify what I said? I thought to myself why am I made to feel bad about standing up for myself you?", Tapsell says.

Tapsell became withdrawn and depressed and it wasn't until she moved to Sydney after high school and started acting that she was able to deal with the abuse.

"You can’t control what people think of you and I found that really hard to come to terms with and maybe that's my personality."

"I always want people to like me and when they don’t like me I think, why don’t they? And that was a really hard thing to brush off, and even now that can be a part of me," said Tapsell.

The actress is now part of a campaign to inspire others to stand up for their beliefs.

Libra.

The "I Am Fearless" campaign features Tapsell, singer Megan Washington and entrepreneur Sammy Veall speaking about their fears and how they overcame them.

Tapsell says she did the video to inspire other young Indigenous women to achieve their goals.

"Whenever I get scared I just remind myself that remember you were once a little girl from Jabiru who wanted this, and this is what I have been dreaming of all my life, so I’m going to live my dream."

Libra.

In May Tapsell won two Logie awards for her role as Martha Tennant in the Channel 9 drama series Love Child.

View this video on YouTube

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Tapsell used her acceptance speech to highlight the lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actors on Australian screens.

"If viewers clearly love seeing this, why deprive them of that? Put more beautiful people of colour on TV and connect viewers in ways which transcends race and unites us. That’s the real team Australia,” Tapsell said.

The bullies that once made her life hell have since praised Tapsell for her honesty and courage, "these boys have come up to me later in life and said they really admired what I've achieved and really admire that I got up that day."

"They said to me, 'I learnt a lot from you that day in class and that you had the courage to do that and you made me think about my attitude'. So for me it was worth it in the end, although it didn’t feel like it at the time."

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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